Some of Asia’s best attractions open up after everything else shuts down. In the Taiwanese capital of Taipei when the sun sets and the street lights buzz to life, things are just getting started for an impressive number of insomniac shoppers.
Under the glow of brightly illuminated signs that cluster over streets and alleyways, Taipei certainly doesn’t lack excitement at night. Although the city doesn’t have much of a reputation as far as night clubs and bars are concerned, the city more than makes up for this deficit with a different kind of night life. By some estimates there are over 100 night markets across the country.
Taipei’s night markets are among the best in the world. Tightly packed vendors hawk clothing, electronics, jewelry, toys and no shortage of curiosities, voices shouting out bargains into the night air. Carts full of an assortment of candied fruits pop up in the most obscure locations, while traditional foods like Taiwan’s stinky tofu are easily found. Night markets are a place where families go to relax and unwind at the end of the day, where tourists scout for discounted goods, and where the city’s young come to hang around, play carnival games, and binge eat.
Night markets and their surrounding neighbourhoods are also a great place to get a massage, from foot reflexology to Taiwan’s famed knife massages, where your masseuse will happily assault your back with a rhythmic pounding from dulled butchers knives (it’s surprisingly relaxing). If you’re a bit apprehensive of the bladed option, you can easily find places where your massage will consist of being whacked with a loose bundle of thin sticks. This too, despite appearances, has a contradictory sleep-inducing effect.
Taiwan’s most famous midnight venue is easily Shilin Night Market, which is also Taipei’s largest. A virtual labyrinth of alleyways and covered shopping streets can keep you busy for hours, but the underground food court is one of the best places in Taipei to eat. Loaded with tiny restaurants that serve everything from bubble tea to oyster omelettes, there are plenty of unique specialties to be enjoyed.
Hwashi is well worth visiting as well, even if it’s just to pay a visit to Mengjia Longshan Temple, a breathtaking multi-denominational temple jammed in among midrise apartments and just off the busy city streets. It’s one of the most beautiful temples I’ve had the pleasure to experience and when you’ve had your fill of chanting and candlelight you can head into the market for some shopping and snacks. If you’re so inclined, the market features at least one turtle soup restaurant.
It would be easy to make night markets the focus of any trip to Taiwan, and it would certainly be a trip well-spent.